Pelosi: This Is Not Just a Natural Disaster; This Is a Failure of Lack of Preparednes
Washington, D.C. – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined senior House Democrats at a news conference in the Capitol this afternoon on Congressional action to provide disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Below are Pelosi’s remarks:
“Good afternoon. Thank you for being here. As we gather here under the Capitol dome, we are in a state of emergency in our country. So many people have lost their lives, their livelihoods, their homes; the list of concerns is a long one.
“I was concerned that Congress was not in session last week. I had asked for a special session of the Congress earlier in the week. Eventually we got an abbreviated form later in the week, but it really was not enough to address the concerns of the American people, the needs of the affected area, and indeed across the country.
“Now Congress is back in session and the House Democrats’ first priority is to meet the needs of our neighbors in the Gulf Coast. We just met with Leadership and Ranking Members, and I will meet with President Bush at the White House later this afternoon.
“We don’t stand alone – we pay tribute to the American people. Americans take seriously their sacred duty to help each other in times of national need. We have heard so many stories of the unsung heroes and heroines. I just got off the phone with Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, who told me the story of so many people who took personal responsibility for their neighbors’ welfare. You have heard all of the stories of health professionals, law enforcement officers, and everyday people helping each other.
“The people of the Gulf Coast region were struck by two disasters – first the Hurricane, and then the failure of the federal government in their time of great need. This is not just a natural disaster; this is a failure of lack of preparedness. It’s a natural disaster, but man-made mistakes have made matters much worse, having lost many more lives.
“Instead of unconscionably blaming others, President Bush must take charge and take responsibility, and must get it right, and that is my concern and the message that I will bring to the President: ‘Mr. President, you should have taken charge and you should have taken responsibility.’
“After 9/11, Congress stood united to make homeland security a top priority. Yet in the four years since, our Republican Congress has given natural disaster preparedness secondary status in the federal budget, undermined the effectiveness of FEMA, and cut funding for the Army Corps flood control projects in and around New Orleans.
“Congress also passed an energy bill that provided incentives to oil companies while doing nothing to address skyrocketing gas prices at the pump. Indeed, now you see that American consumers will be the victims of price gouging. It was bad enough before the tragedy. We need to have federal leadership to stop the price gouging, now.
“This is no time for business as usual. Last week, we made the first step with a $10.5 billion emergency appropriation – that’s not nearly enough. When the hurricane struck Florida, right off the bat it was $16 billion – this can blow up to $100 billion or more than $100 billion, and we’re nickel and diming the region. We must remove all doubt in the minds of the people in the region that we understand the gravity of the situation, that we understand what it will need in personal and financial resources, what it will need in terms of public policy, and some of what we want to do is cut the red tape.
“I have also called upon Speaker Hastert to establish a Select Hurricane Relief Task Force, because time is of the essence, and waiting for multiple committees to act on a crisis of such breadth is not acceptable. We need this Task Force to look back – perform an after-action review of what went wrong and how we could have done better – and to look forward – at how we can address the needs of the victims.
“We need to cut through the red tape immediately, streamlining our safety net programs so assistance is ready and available.
“God bless the South. The hospitality is just as it is described. It’s legendary and it is real, and people have taken people as guests into their communities. But sooner or later, sooner really, people will want to fend for themselves and we need to give them what they are owed. Whether its unemployment insurance, or disaster assistance insurance, or food stamps, whatever it is, we must cut the red tape so they can have what they need.
“To cut the red tape, we must ensure that anyone in need of hurricane disaster-related assistance only has to fill out a single form to apply for federal benefits, including unemployment insurance, food stamps, and Medicaid; and ensure adequate unemployment compensation, paid for by the federal government, for people who are directly affected by the disaster.
“We need an immediate inquiry into gas price gouging while we simultaneously work to restore energy capacity.
“Families faced with personal bankruptcy because of the storm should be given relief from any unnecessary burdens imposed by the new bankruptcy law.
“Now is not the time for massive cuts in Medicaid. It is not time to cut Medicaid. We’ll be heading to budget reconciliation. What we must do is eliminate the tax cuts for the high end instead of cutting health care for the poorest of America’s children especially in the wake of Katrina.
“The American people expect and deserve accountability, they expect leadership, and they expect competence. They didn’t see any of that coming out of the White House following the disaster of Katrina.
“With that, my colleagues stand here to serve as resources for any questions that you may have. They’ve all been working very hard since Katrina hit, and through the Labor Day weekend, they have worked on initiatives that can help people immediately, and that can be put into the law so we will never come into a disaster where we are falling short because the law did not anticipate. There is no excuse for what happened.”